LAS VEGAS – Twenty-five years ago who knew about LeBron James, Russell Wilson or Tiger Woods? Heck, Kyle Larson's parents weren't even married yet. However, Target Chip Ganassi Racing was beginning to make its mark in motorsports.
The point Dan Griffis, vice president of experiential marketing and alliances for Target, lays out is that the relationship between the retail giant and Target Chip Ganassi Racing “has stood the test of time” in professional sports because of a second, and no less imperative, point.
“Sponsorship is just about putting a logo on a car and a partnership is where you’re developing a mutually beneficial relationship, and that’s what we have here,” Griffis said before a soiree March 7 at the chic Cosmopolitan Hotel and Casino to celebrate this partnership's 25th anniversary.
“It’s about one team. We want his organization to be the best on the planet. We want to partner with the best, whether it’s design or fashion or technology or racing. Chip is a true collaborator and we draw a lot of parallels with the race team.
“At Target, we like to say we don’t create campaigns, we create conversations about what people are passionate about and sports bring out passion. What is so appealing about motorsports is that people are actively rooting for Target. Innovation and design are things we try to bring to the table with Chip’s organization and it works. It’s a good platform.”
Following his Indy car driving career, Ganassi started his one-car Indy car team in 1990 with the Target bulls-eye on the car. It’s been one of the longest commercial and charitable relationships in sports, and certainly one of the most successful.
Target Chip Ganassi Racing won its first CART championship in 1996 with Jimmy Vasser, and overall the team has earned 17 championships (10 in the IndyCar Series) and four Indianapolis 500s.
“What I’m truly proud of is the partnership we have is built on innovative and maybe even more collaboration,” said Ganassi, who will celebrate his 56th birthday the day before the 98th Running of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race on May 25. “Our organization and Target have had an open dialogue from day one. The program looks today nothing like it did 25 years ago, but then we don’t look anything like we did 25 years ago. It continues to evolve and that’s why it’s worked for so long.”
So has the relationship between Ganassi and Griffis, who went to work for the team in sponsor relations and marketing fresh out of grad school at the University of Michigan. He stayed nine years before the opportunity arose at Target in part because of that that relationship.
“It was a really easy transition,” Griffis said. “When I worked for Chip and I started working with the Target people, something that captivated me was that they had the highest integrity and were strong in just about everything that they were doing.
“Chip (simplified) the basics of why you walked in the door every day. You’d ask yourself, ‘Did I make our race cars go faster today?’ or ‘Did I add more value to our sponsors?’ If you couldn’t answer either of those questions when you walked out the door you wasted a day. I think about that in the world of business today and how complex it is, and how we can simplify things with some basic messaging that people can rally behind.”
The corporate slogan is Fast, Fun and Friendly, which also aligns with IndyCar racing.
“I feel a little bit of a custodial responsibility for the success of the program and what we built, and I can apply some of the things that Chip taught me over the years,” Griffis added.
The corporate relationship with Target House at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis also is a significant part of the partnership, according to reigning IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon (in photo above with Tony Kanaan). During the event, the silver No. 9 Chevrolet-powered car in honor of the 25th anniversary that he’ll drive in the Indianapolis 500 was unveiled.
“For me, it’s been like a family,” said Dixon, the team's longest-tenured driver. “Visits to St. Jude, the Target House and even the book readings that I’ve done, I feel very privileged to be with Chip and to have been a partner with Target for so long.”